(A)SL archiving FOR-FOR?

By Julie A. Hochgesang, updated July 15, 2022

Importance of Archiving
Signed Language Archives in the US
How to cite this page


Thoughts shared with #ISGS9 regarding the need and importance of language archiving for signed language videos as a part of a lunchtime presentation about Sign and Gesture Archive (SAGA)

(American) Sign Language Archiving FOR-FOR? presentation video

To better contextualize this presentation, I’m a deaf linguist who has been doing signed language documentation for many years. My presentation is rooted in a US-based context, focused on signing in North America and acknowledgment of the different ways of identifying as deaf and language experiences associated with that.

Several images of people signing are funneled into a computer by a hand holding a funnel and labeled as "language archiving". The computer has a stitched image of multiple people signing. The background graphics is in gray and white and the video screenshots are in color. Next to the laptop is the following text "searchable, citable, accessible, portable and maintained"

Language archiving is the process of collecting, storing and sharing language texts (signed, spoken or written) for multipurpose use.

To consider the importance of language archiving for signed language videos, let’s start with Veditz who put it better than I ever could. (Also see Padden 2004)

Veditz (1913) Preservation of the Sign Language
Screenshot of Veditz's film in which Veditz is shown in black-white signing "P" in manual alphabet used in ASL. White text on bottom reads "... the only way in which this can be done is by means of moving picture films" - George Veditz, 1913 (translated by Padden, 2004).

As you can see from Veditz’s video, the best way to preserve language use is through moving picture (films). And here’s an example of those “moving picture (film)s”…

Many ASL videos (sources available upon request)

As we can see right away from the video above showing many ASL videos from different signers, contexts, regions, etc, the signed language use out there is incredibly rich and downright amazing.

Purple animated gif of a person (indicated by white incomplete lines) signing "ooh" in ASL by Creativity 58 (watermark logo in bottom left)

So that amazingness is clear to us after just watching those videos ourselves but let’s say we wanted to search among them or even cite them, that’s where the trouble is. We as linguists or scholars who study language use often collect language data and keep them on our shelves as they gather dust.

There are thousands and thousands of videos scattered across the US. They’re in different formats, and processed differently even if at all. That all means they’re not accessible. I think this is unfortunate. It’s a problem referred to as “digital detritus” by Bird and Simons (2003) who acknowledge the widespread issue of content not being digital or, if digital, not accessible.

The (A)SL videos we are entrusted with are from the language communities and should be kept where the language communities themselves can access them. As we think about archiving, this should be done with permission and consideration of ethics led by deaf people. And, of course, these communities are not homogenous. The wide range of values and needs among the communities will require active reflection and engagement. Despite the potential of conflicting values or needs within the communities, I still think language archiving is important.

Here are some of the few reasons why archiving is worth it…

Daily Moth capture of light-colored man with black hair and beard and glasses in orange shirt signing "why" in ASL. He's seated in front of a blue background with Daily Moth logo in top right

☝️ First off, ASL and other signed languages don’t have conventionalized writing systems, which are are time-honored ways of preserving information. As Veditz says, we need “moving picture (films)”.

 Kira : What’s writing? Jen : Words that stay. 

(Dark Crystal, 1982)
Tom Hanks wearing a suit waving his hands in frustration before a laptop in a fancy home office

✌🏽 Processing (signed) language data (e.g., digital organization, creation of metadata, annotation, etc) is labor- and time-intensive. Why let all that work go to waste? It makes sense to archive processed data (permission-willing) for multipurpose use.


Animated gif where "diversity" in black font appears letter by letter on the top in a curve then flashes. Below are four hands in different shades gesturing the letters "LOVE"

☝🏽☝🏿☝🏻 Our ASL data has often been centered on privileged groups – white, deaf of deaf, deaf-school-educated. We need a better representation of the actual range of the ASL communities. And again, we need do it with them or better yet with them leading. Language archives will serve us well here because there’s no one individual that can connect with all of the ASL communities out there but the representation is still needed. 

Our communities clearly want a platform for our knowledge. Just see the handful of hashtags here indicating that need … 

Screenshot of multiple hashtags 
entitled #TheASLCommunitiesWantAPlatform #ASL #DeafInMedia #DeafBlind #JSL #DeafAccessToJustice #Access #DeafBing #KSL #BlackASL #kodaism #SignLanguage #Protactile #WhyISign #BSL #DeafEducation #DeafHistoryMOnth #DeafWomenHistoryMonth #QueerASL #AccessibilityRocks #DeafinPrison #AccessibilityRocks #CODA #LIBRAS #Deaf And many more
Hashtags from deaf people on social media

Language archiving allows us to take care of the data we’ve taken from the communities and to share back with the communities but we must be careful about how we do it and be mindful of lessons already shared by those who have been thinking about this for a while, such as “care, not control” by Taeyoon Choi, Indigenous groups who have been thinking about representation of their knowledge, and some library science scholars who have been grappling with the colonial harms of collecting and centralization.

Scholars of deaf studies, language documentation, anthropology and etc have been considering the process of language archiving or representation of information and how we go about it (Kusters et al 2017, Gawne et al 2017, Schembri 2019). I’ve considered the same kind of questions in my own review of signed language research in which I’ve noted that overall there is little transparency or explicit reflection of positionality or consideration of representation and accessibility of data (Hochgesang 2019 (thread), 2022).

ASL Signbank watermarked image of white woman with blonde curly hair and black top standing in front of a green background signing "responsibility" in ASL

It’s clear that we have a responsibility to the (A)SL communities to care for the data they have entrusted to us. We have these principles we can consider from others:

Green and white patterned image with text from FAIR and CARE principles (see text above)
Be FAIR and CARE (https://www.gida-global.org/care)

Signed Language Archives in the US

While there are language archives out there (see resources), it has been hard to find suitable language archives in the US for signed language or gesture video data.

Our current need – and this has been echoed by many – is a stable digital repository to store, consistently organize, process (make machine-readable) and share our videos. And it’s something that needs to be sustainable or maintained over time. Basically we need an accessible digital curation system for stewardship of (A)SL videos.

Sign and Gesture Archive (SAGA) is a potential language archive for our signed language videos. It could store the ASL videos as shared with you in the beginning of the presentation video. SAGA is or will be home to these other ASL datasets:

  • ASL acquisition data from 4 deaf children from deaf families from SLAAASh
    (annotated in ELAN with ASL Signbank and SLAAASh conventions)
  • Tweety Bird narratives/data from classifier tasks (agent/number) from ASL, BSL, LIS, Nicaraguan Sign Language, Nicraguan homesigners, and HKSL
    (partially annotated or segmented into ASL)
    10 signers in each language
  • clips from the Valli Gallaudet Dictionary (2006)
    (all lexical items, approx. 2500, with detailed phonological annotations)
  • a few ASL stories and poems of Peter Cook’s works
    (open access; no annotations)
ASL Signbank image of latina man with shoulder-length black hair, black wire rimmed glasses and gray polo shirt standing in front of a green background signing "cherish" in ASL

As I’ve said earlier, it’s clear we need to care for the signed language data that we’ve been given while reflecting upon the lessons by those who have been thinking about this for a long time. And we need to do all of this in a way that is aligned with the needs and values of the diverse (A)SL communities, which are not always easily reconciled and require constant reflection and engagement in order to care for our data.

How to cite this page:

Hochgesang, Julie (2022): (A)SL Archiving FOR-FOR?. figshare. Presentation. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.20319849.v1 


Archiving for the Future: Simple Steps for Archiving Language Documentation Collections is an amazing online course introduction to language archiving.

The open-access Open Handbook of Linguistic Data Management is now available and an incredible resource along with its companion site.

And I’m excited to announce that Signed Language Corpora (Gallaudet University Press) edited by Jordan Fenlon and myself with foreword by Trevor Johnston is out now!

“A brief history of archiving in language documentation, with an annotated bibliography” in Language Documentation and Conservation

How to be FAIR when you CARE: The DGS Corpus as a Case Study of Open Science Resources for Minority Languages from LREC 2022

Report on On-going Research: New Trends in ASL Variation Documentation

Some online ASL datasets

NOTE: These are all projects I’ve been involved in. If you know of a project that should be added here, let me know!

MoLo ASL (coming soon!)

Zoom screenshots of different people signing in ASL (there are several Zoom sessions featured here). Each one has an open hands emoji in the bottom right
Some screenshots from the MoLo ASL datasets

Dudis, P. G., Hochgesang, J. A., Shaw, E., & Villanueva, M. (2020, November). Introduction to “Motivated Look at Indicating Verbs in ASL (MoLo)” Project. HDLS14, Virtual Conference. https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/H8GK4

Philadelphia Sign Project

Screenshot of website front page in which several signers from the project are featured in a stitched image signing in ASL. Text below "The Philadelphia Signs Project is recording stories and signs from users of ASL in the Philadelphia area. We work in collaboration with local Deaf community organizations and individuals with the aims of preserving Philly's unique sign language heritage, building resources for educators and other signing community members, and supporting scholarly research on sign languages."
Front page of the The Philadelphia Signs Project website

Fisher, J. N., Tamminga, M., & Hochgesang, J. A. (2020, March). Philly Signs. Philadelphia Sign Project. https://pennds.org/phillysigns/

O5S5: Documenting the experiences of the ASL communities in the time of COVID-19

#O5S5ASL a bit of all of our video sessions to date

Hochgesang, J., Bates, M., Clark, A., Davis, K., Dunham, M., Hamilton, L., Kadar, S., Kim, Y., Martínez Castiblanco, J. A., Maucere, G., Newman, T., & Simmons, H.. (2021). O5S5: Documenting the experiences of the ASL Communities in the time of COVID-19 (Version2). figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.16983517.v2

Sign and Gesture Archive (SAGA)

SAGA logo - SAGA in red, "saga" in manual alphabet, "Sign and gesture archive" in red and stacked upon one another

Goldin-Meadows, S., Brentari, D., & Lillo-Martin, D. (2019). Sign and Gesture Archive (SAGA). https://saga.rcc.uchicago.edu/index.html

Some language archives

OLAC: Open Language Archives Community

The Language Archive

Endangered Language Archive at SOAS University of London

CAVA Repository (BSL corpus here)

Endangered Languages Project

TROLLing: The Tromsø Repository of Language and Linguistics


Berez-Kroeker, A. L., Andreassen, H. N., Gawne, L., Holton, G., Smythe Kung, S., Pulsifer, P., Collister, L. B., & The Data Citation and Attribution in Linguistics Group, & the Linguistics Data Interest Group. 2018. (2018). The Austin Principles of Data Citation in Linguistics. Version 1.0. Linguistics Data Citation. https://site.uit.no/linguisticsdatacitation/austinprinciples/

Bird, S., & Simons, G. (2003). Seven Dimensions of Portability for Language Documentation and Description. Language, 79(3), 557–582. https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2003.0149

Choi, T. (n.d.). Distributed Web of Care. Retrieved January 4, 2022, from http://distributedweb.care/

Gawne, L., Kelly, B. F., Berez-Kroeker, A. L., & Heston, T. (2017). Putting practice into words: The state of data and methods transparency in grammatical descriptions. Language Documentation & Conservation, 11, 157–189. https://doi.org/http://hdl.handle.net/10125/24731

Harris, R., Holmes, H. M., & Mertens, D. M. (2009). Research Ethics in Sign Language Communities. Sign Language Studies, 9(2), 104–131. https://doi.org/10.1353/sls.0.0011

Hochgesang, J. A. (2019a, December 6). Sign Language Description: A Deaf Retrospective and Application of Best Practices from Language Documentation [Opening keynote presentation]. The 8th Meeting of Signed and Spoken Language Linguistics, National Museum of Ethnology, Minpaku, Osaka, Japan. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13393427.v1 Twitter Thread

Hochgesang, J. A. (2022, January 6). Documenting signed language use while considering our spaces as a Deaf* linguist. The 96th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Virtual/Washington DC. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.17911973.v1 Filmed presentation

Hochgesang, J. A., & Shaw, E. (2019). Maintaining the Stories of the Deaf Communities at Gallaudet. Online Proceedings. Maintainers III: Practice, Policy and Care, Gallaudet University, Washington DC. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.9941780.v2

Kusters, A., De Meulder, M., & O’Brien, D. (2017). Innovations in Deaf Studies: The Role of Deaf Scholars. Oxford University Press.

Leonard, W. Y. (2018). Reflections on (de)colonialism in language documentation. In B. McDonnell, A. L. Berez-Kroeker, & G. Holton (Eds.), Reflections on Language Documentation 20 Years after Himmelmann 1998. Language Documentation & Conservation Special Publication no. 15 (pp. 55–65). University of Hawai’i. http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/handle/10125/24808

Padden, C. (2004). Translating Veditz. Sign Language Studies, 4(3), 244–260.

Reidsma, M. (2019). Masked by Trust: Bias in Library Discovery. Litwin Books.

Schembri, A. (2019). Making visual languages visible: Data and methods transparency in sign language linguistics. 13th International Conference on Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research (TISLR13), University of Hamburg.

Wilkinson, M. D., Dumontier, M., Aalbersberg, I. J. J., Appleton, G., Axton, M., Baak, A., Blomberg, N., Boiten, J.-W., da Silva Santos, L. B., Bourne, P. E., Bouwman, J., Brookes, A. J., Clark, T., Crosas, M., Dillo, I., Dumon, O., Edmunds, S., Evelo, C. T., Finkers, R., … Mons, B. (2016). The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Scientific Data, 3, 160018. https://doi.org/10.1038/sdata.2016.18